Paul Bascobert is out as operating CEO of Gannett

It makes sense in business terms. The pandemic and cost-cutting already in place forced layoffs and furloughs. Having two CEOs was a bad look.

June 18, 2020

After less than a year as operating CEO of Gannett, Paul Bascobert is leaving the company. The move was announced Thursday in a letter to staff by Mike Reed, CEO of Gannett parent company New Media Investment Group.

Reed said that Bascobert’s job will be folded into his, eliminating it as a separate position. He and the board of directors decided now was a time to streamline the executive ranks, Reed wrote.

“Bringing our company back to revenue growth remains one of our top priorities. This organizational shift will increase accountability and transparency between the senior executive team to the Board, and we expect to gain momentum in decision making, execution ability, and vision … ”

Bascobert joined Gannett as CEO in August 2019 — an outsider with a digital marketing background and thus a break with the company’s long tradition of promoting from within to the CEO position.

That coincided with the announcement that New Media was acquiring Gannett for $1.4 billion and merging the company with its GateHouse chain. Operating under the Gannett name, the new company has more than 250 regional daily newspapers and their websites as well as USA Today.

A lengthy Securities and Exchange Commission filing after the deal explained that Bascobert’s appointment as operating CEO was a condition of the sale.

In his time at Gannett, Bascobert was very much an inside man, leaving public statements to investors to Reed and turning down nearly all requests for profiles or interviews.

His most recent previous job had been as part of a team that developed a business model for The Knot wedding site, with revenue from a directory listing of vendors and direct sales on which it collected a percentage.

While it seemed that the new Gannett might look for new income by selling goods and services from its sites, I could never find evidence that was happening.

In restructuring the company over its first six months, Reed leaned heavily on retaining Gannett execs. The top three news executives and the advertising chief came from that side of the company rather than from GateHouse.

The company told USA Today that Bascobert’s departure was not a result of any inappropriate action or violation of policy and not a sign of financial distress.

It does make sense in business terms. As the pandemic and cost-cutting already in place has forced layoffs and furloughs, having two CEOs was confusing and a bad look.

Reed and New Media had the same double structure in place for years in building GateHouse. His job then, however, entailed overseeing a $1 billion acquisition binge and coordinating with the company’s hedge fund sponsor and public shareholders.

Now the focus has shifted to is on making the big deal work, and it is unsurprising Reed has chosen to do that himself rather than delegating.

Rick Edmonds is Poynter’s media business analyst. He can be reached at redmonds@poynter.org.